Still a Runner

A Blog by Mary Lou Harris

Archive for Cycling

Exploring the Ozarks Post-Mother Road Marathon

A destination race like the Mother Road Marathon isn’t complete without getting a feel for the locality.  Joplin, Missouri is cemented in our memory for the horrendous EF 5 tornado that swept through in 2011. On my post-race shuttle to the hotel, the driver pointed out blocks and blocks that were totally decimated, saying the television coverage couldn’t convey the loss Joplin suffered in lives and neighborhoods.  New housing now stands and a hospital is still being rebuilt better and stronger, as temporary buildings are used in the meantime.


Newman Building now serves as Joplin City Hall

Joplin has rebuilt. This is an attractive city that has maintained its distinct personality through the loss.  While I was busy with packet pickup at Joplin City Hall, my big sister (BS) admired the facade of the 100+ year old structure.  Joplin has saved and repurposed the stately Newman Building, a department store built in the Chicago style by architect Austin Allen.

Joplin is clearly a city that loves sports and the outdoors. Along with multiple parks, the Joplin Athletic Center near the MRM finish line has rows of well cared for tennis courts, and fields for baseball and soccer invite activity.

As I ran the half through Galena, Kansas, I knew I had to return for a closer look.  Post-race shower, we retraced the race route and parked on the downtown street. Music, 1940-s style jazz, was piped in from somewhere on the square.  This was the quintissential lower Midwest small town, quiet on a Sunday with a few folks out for a stroll.IMG_1327A stop in Galena is not complete without hitting the former gas station.  At the building across the street, young women were giving tours of theHaunted Bordello.”  If you want Route 66 souvenirs and a great cheeseburger, this is the stop.


I pulled BS away from her Halloween costume prep to pose with my MRM goodies

Feeling there was more to learn about this town but knowing it was time to go, we veered off to the Arkansas Ozarks where BS has ensconced herself, renovating a turn-of-the-century home located in one of the many tiny towns with funny sounding names.  This was my first return to Arkansas since my brother lured me to the area to run the Mountain Home Marathon for Kenya several years ago. (Side Note:  This is now renamed the White River Marathon, with a flat, fast course. The year I ran it was quite hilly and beautiful. )

BS took me on a tour of the local sites and towns.  The area is known for trout fishing and beautiful scenery. It’s also good cycling territory with wide berms on the roadsides.


Yes, we really are in Flippin Arkansas

There is the appearance of many local businesses closing, but a number are being reimagined and reopened by a younger generation with hearts in rural and small town America.

No destination race review is complete without talking about regional food.  For this trip, it was all casual dining and home cooking.

Our first food stop was in Joplin at Pitchers Bar & Grill where I enjoyed a pre race day bowl of tomato basil soup.  BS spotted a lamb wrap on the menu and gave it a rave review.


All-A-Bout Eatery

We enjoyed a fantastic home-style meal at the All-A-Bout Eatery, ice cream stand and mini-golf near Mountain Home AR. Bonnie served her home cooking on paper plates,  followed by brownies accompanied with ice cream from the adjacent bar.

My final food stop was a zesty pre-flight breakfast at Laura’s Mexican Chicken in Yellville, located in the old bank building where food is now served through the teller’s window.

If you enjoy steep hills for your cardio, a wide berm for your bike and local eateries and motels you won’t likely find on a google search, this is a good place to start.ffl


Route 66 – Mother Road Half Marathon Review

Where does one begin the pursuit to run 66 miles on Route 66 at age 66? Somewhere in the middle of course, at the Mother Road Marathon.  I opted to save Oklahoma for another day and began the Half in Baxter, Kansas.IMG_1314

The Mother Road is a small marathon, 139 marathon finishers and 250 finishers of the half this year. Yet, it operates as smoothly as large marathons I have run and offers all the percs without the elbow-to-elbow start.

My Mother Road experience began at the Springfield/Branson airport where my sister greeted me and drove us to our first stop at Joplin City Hall for packet pickup.  There was a small expo with sponsor and organization information and product tables.

Next stop to the LaQuinta, the marathon hotel. Race morning, a light continental breakfast was available to runners beginning at 4 a.m. Volunteers were on hand to welcome runners on the shuttles to the Joplin Athletic Center. Shuttle service began at 5 a.m.  From the Athletic Center, we transferred to buses for either Baxter KS for the 1/2 start, or to Commerce, OK for the full. From a runner perspective, the shuttles ran smoothly, always departing and arriving as scheduled.

A light rain stopped as our shuttle arrived in Baxter. The morning was cool so I pulled a stowed trash bag over my head and placed my jacket in a carryall provided by the race.  I handed it off to at bag check and made my way to the start. The rain stopped and I passed the trash bag on to a shivering rain-drenched runner caught in an earlier downpour.  A few words from the mayor, a prayer, the anthem, and we’re off for our 13.1 miles.

Chart-Course-Elevation-2013-300x215The first few miles were flat roadway, with a short distance on a water-logged trail where we merged with full marathon runners. Back to the road, the wind was at 10 mph, in our faces and cool. In shorts sleeves and short tights, I was comfortable  but could have used a pair of light cotton gloves.

The road ahead was going up, up, up.  The first half of this marathon is relatively flat, changing to a slight uphill for the second half.

I can handle hills, but although shallow, these didn’t seem to end. The expected downhill when we peaked was nonexistent, only a plateau before the next hill.  Around miles 7/8, a snake-like bend through the town of GalenaIMG_1323was a colorful reprieve from that straight ribbon of highway. Cheering folks in lawn chairs lined the main street. Runners meandered through a section where paving was worn and cracked.

Original roadbed of Route 66

Original roadbed of Route 66

A sign cautioned to watch our footing – we were running on the original roadbed of Route 66.

Soon enough we were back out to the smoother but less scenic main highway. Plentiful porta-potties and water stations were staggered along the hilly route.

Approaching the finish, there was a sizable crowd and an announcer calling the names of first-time 1/2 and full marathoners. My finish was a 2:06, eight minutes shy of my 1/2’s in 2012.   This was my first race to rebuild distance, next working on my time to sneak back under that 2-hour mark.

It’s a short walk to the food tent where a variety of fresh fruit and energy bars were available.  The only thing missing was the hot cup of coffee that I crave post-run.

The atmosphere was festive with 5K participants mixing in.  Beer and pizza were available for runners and a live band played some classic rock numbers.

I retrieved my drop bag, picked up my AG medal and continued up a grassy hill for the hotel shuttle pickup.IMG_1312

From the runner perspective, this event looked flawless. The details required for planning a course through three states and multiple municipalities, synchronizing a marathon and half marathon with a 5K going off in Joplin takes a skilled and dedicated race committee. Congratulations to the Mother Road Marathon and all of the sponsors and volunteers that helped to achieve a seamless and historic race experience.

Next post, I’ll report on the travel, food and sightseeing that are the wonderful side benefits of destination races.ffl

Localeikki – An App for Active Travelers

What kind of a name is that?  That was my first question when I read about this app.  The second question was “what does it do?” Both are answered on the website, but I’ll offer my brief version of how it works.

The app is basically a national database of recommended locations and groups,

photoat this point limited to the activities of running, biking, walking and hiking. The user can benefit from and add to the database in two ways:

1) Use the app when traveling (or even at home), to determine 1) places or courses near you and 2) any groups that meet anywhere near you for outdoor activities. The group information may also include details beyond directions and time (moderate skill level, group runs at an 8-minute pace, all levels welcome, etc.).  There is a “search” category to plan ahead before visiting a locality.

2) Add local information, such as a favorite trail or running/hiking/biking route and/or add a “group” activity.  Input from local outdoor enthusiasts – that’s you and me – will be important since we usually know the terrain better than the average concierge or family friend sending the visitor out the door for some exercise.

As someone who rambles around this world a bit, I decided the purchase of this app on my iphone would be $2 well spent.

After making my purchase, I had a brief problem getting it to load. I emailed for help and co-founder Tracy McMillan responded, quickly resolving the issue.  I deleted the app and reloaded, which took all of about two minutes.

My first use of the localeikki app was to check out running trails and running groups close to home (see #1 above).  The app brought up running groups a hundred miles away.  Oh, we can do better than that Central Pennsylvania. I immediately moved into “add” mode (see #2 above) with a favorite course

Towpath at Wildwood Park

Towpath at Wildwood Park

in the “places” category. I talked with the group leader for a couple of my groups runs and we added those as well. Adding a place or a group was a smooth process.  Inserting a a photo and the map link was a breeze.

The app is still early in development. Unveiled in August, it may take a bit of time before the local information fills out. Localeikki is encouraging users to bring anything to their attention that would improve its use.

The name?  Well, “leikki” in Finnish means “play.”  The “loca” comes from use of the term in local movements such as purchasing food grown locally.  The app gives users information to play local, wherever they travel and where the locals have added information on their favorite routes and groups.

So, why use this app?  For me, it puts everything under one roof.  I don’t need to search multiple sites for trails or running clubs. After the prompt response from Tracy, and the ease I found in using this app, I volunteered to be an ambassador for localeikki. 

Do you look for local groups or trails when you travel? I’d love to hear whether you are using the localeikki app or what methods you use to find local trails, tracks, courses and how you find local groups for a casual run, ride or hike.

In the meantime, I’m out the door for a run, playing local.

A Year of Running and Writing

September of 2012, I touched the “publish” button and with that simple action my first blog post was released.

English: birthday cake

Happy 1st, stillarunner Credit: Wikipedia

My expectations were to make contact with a few senior runners who I could learn from and who may be interested in my quirky training methods, my running travels and attempts at eating well.  The pleasant surprise was readers from 40 different countries and interest of runners from all over the world, and all age groups from beginners to elite runners.

In addition to runners, I’ve found – and been found by – bloggers who are incredible foodies, fashionistas, philosophers, photographers, cyclists, triathloners, every combination thereof, and just really good story tellers.

To celebrate my blog birthday, my gift to readers is a list (12 for 12 months of blogging) that I look forward to seeing appear. Several bloggers opened my eyes to before unknown activities, such as:

Park Runs –  Am I the only runner who hadn’t heard of these?

parkrun logo

parkrun logo

They are 5K runs that take place at the same locations weekly, usually in parks.  Park Runs are timed events, free, and open to everyone of every ability.  They began in the UK in 2004 and have since grown to include runs in seven countries, including the USA.  Thank you Run, Hemingway, Run for the introduction to park runs.

Gravel Grinders – Never heard of them?  Me, either, until a few posts from CultFit, a Midwestern philosopher athlete who broadens my awareness with every post he writes.

Credit: Chris Locke

Credit: Chris Locke

Gravel Grinders are distance bike rides – or races – that take place on gravel roads, generally in the Midwest but spreading to other rural areas.  Reading about the rides with minimal support, minimal traffic – the occasional farm machinery or animals crossing the road, may encourage this just-the-basics, fearful of traffic, timid cyclist the whif of adventure to think she could do this.  It’s on the possibility list for 2014.

Triathlons that include horseback – Hadn’t heard of this either, but now I know.  No, this isn’t on the list for 2014, but it was on the list for Chasing The Blackwood Marathon. This athlete’s writing clearly conveys her love of the outdoors and her beautiful country.

And what more have I learned?

That I can go to Move, Eat, Create and find recipes that are healthy and as delectable to the eye and the taste buds as any food site I have found.

That I am susceptible to being pulled into the triathlon world by Triathlon Obsession, Ashleystri and nonblogging friends who are just as obsessed as these bloggers.

That the reviews of All Seasons Cyclist can be useful for this infrequent cyclist. His blog is a great place to browse if you’re thinking of adding to your gear.

From my blogging friend Red Hen , I learned that humor in writing is a wonderful way to share your running escapades.  I vicariously join her on training runs along the craggy coast near her home.

One of my earliest readers, a strong ultrarunner and the writer of Mind Margins, has reinforced my knowledge that real toughness comes when life throws us stuff that no training plan could contemplate.

And finally, I’ve found – or they found me – three photography blogs that are great for armchair adventure and relaxation after a tough run:

Patrick Latter’s hiking photography,
Sethsnap‘s whimsical photos of mostly rural Ohio, and
Merilee’s haunting black and white photography at thegravelghost.

Thanks for being with me this year and I hope you enjoy some of my reads I’m sharing.



How Old is Too Old?


National Senior Games Triathlon finish area on Cleveland waterfront.

At the National Senior Games in Cleveland, Ohio, I had Sunday off from competition. I took the opportunity to do a leisurely morning run and cheer on the Triathlon participants. After watching some incredible athletes, I walked from the finish chatting with another Games participant about events.

     Me:  Are you competing today?

     She:  I’m competing in Swimming.  I used to compete in Cycling, but now I’m too old.

     Me:  How old is too old?

     She:  I’m 93.  I may ride in the State Games next year, but I won’t compete on the bike at the Nationals again.  My daughter tells me I’m too old.

She also offered that her daughter has little room for criticism, as she is a 68-year old who continues to do several hundred mile bike rides.

My new acquaintance and I said good-bye at the street corner where I walked on to my hotel and she crossed the street to catch the shuttle to hers.

That refreshing conversation was typical of many I’ve had over the last few days. Opening ceremonies on a beautiful mall adjacent to the Convention Center included several fantastic bands, the arrival of a flame to begin the games and fireworks lighting the sky. Cleveland welcomed 11,000 lycra-clad and fit seniors ready for competition and, based on the general mood on the Mall, ready to have a good time.  Those 11,000 athletes brought with them roughly 18,000 family members and friends.

Photo:  Plain Dealer

Photo: Plain Dealer

Some of those athletes are as young as 50, two athletes are over 100, and the rest of us are somewhere in between.

The Convention Center in Cleveland is incredibly convenient and the Senior Games have done a beautiful job of staffing volunteers and providing a great venue with lots of informative and fun activities located at the Center.

I’m competing in two running events and will write about those in a later post.  In the meantime, I’ll simply say I am sold on the National Senior Games and wondering why I waited this long to compete.  This isn’t just track and field and road running.  There are more than two dozen sports represented – basketball, softball, golf, volleyball, tennis – and some I’m not even familiar with.  

If this is of interest to you, start early. To compete in the National Senior Games, held in odd-numbered years, participants must first qualify the previous year at the state level. You can do this in your own state, or some states will allow out-of-staters do use their venue for qualification.

National Senior Games Cauldron

National Senior Games Cauldron (Photo credit: Texas.713)

I did this, qualifying for the 5K through the Keystone Games in Pennsylvania in July or August of 2012 and qualifying for the 10K through the Delaware Seniors Games event in October 2012.

And how old is too old? As long as there is another age group, we’re not too old.

Will you be there? Who’s in?

Running in these Golden Years

David Bowie told us nothing would touch us in these Golden Years.  I’m not sure he had aging runners in mind.

Nothings Gunna Touch You In These Golden Years

Nothings Gunna Touch You In These Golden Years (Photo credit: ClickFlashPhotos / Nicki Varkevisser)

For those of us blessed with any mix of good genes, healthy habits, and maybe a little luck in holding off age-related diseases, we’re still running.

For a refreshing dose of reality, I recently read Lena Hollmann’s article titled Running in the Golden Years. Hollman, a senior athlete, personal trainer and certified running coach, published her article in RRCA’s Spring/Summer Club Running.  

Beyond just showing up for runs, this coach says to get the most years and quality from our running, older runners need to take heed of age-related body changes and add the following areas to their fitness program:


barbell (Photo credit: MarkKoeber)

MORE STRENGTH TRAINING –If you’ve successfully avoided the weight room – or the family room floor with its soft carpet and space for pushups and planks – do yourself a favor and allocate some time.  Hollmann says greater muscle mass help our joints withstand the impact of running.  Strength training also speeds up our metabolism, and who doesn’t want a speedier metabolism?    (I wrote earlier about my moment of reckoning with loss of strength (Conquer the Overhead Bin.)


Balance (Photo credit: Canon in 2D)

MORE BALANCE WORK – Hollmann recommends exercise to maintain our balance – and here she includes flexibility. This could include some basic Yoga poses and/or dynamic stretching. I appreciate her examples because they can be done as I go about my day.  Have the microwave set at 2 minutes? Stand near the counter and do a tree pose.  Cooling your heels at the corner of walk & don’t walk? Do a few ankle raises while you wait. Longer warm-up times also help address the need to keep our flexibility.

Bike ride at sunset

Bike ride at sunset (Photo credit: dgarkauskas)

MORE RECOVERY TIME – Hollmann advocates for longer recovery times between workouts, but she doesn’t advocate lolling about on the sofa. She suggests instead a day of cross-training or some alternate cardio workout, maybe get out on the bike, or swim some laps.

Setting an example for working the three ‘mores’ above, Hollmann had an early career running track in the 1970’s and moved to distance running in the 1980’s.  She PR’d at the NYC Marathon in 1983 with a 2:44:10 and took 10th place in the 1984 Boston Marathon. She continues to successfully run today, competitive in her age group, and encouraging other senior runners to continue.

I’m on board for following her advice. How much ‘more’ any of us will need of course varies with the individual. I’m reminded every day that I can’t be complacent in maintaining my strength, flexibility, or my health in general.

Are other seniors out there doing more to maintain and support their running?  I sure hope so. I need the company out there on the road.

I’ve Missed the Sweat

You can ski, you can swim, you can get on your bike and cycle for miles, you can lift weights.  You can do all that, but does anyone really sweat with those activities the way we sweat with running?

English: Drops of sweat

English: Drops of sweat (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve missed the sweat.

I didn’t realize I missed it until, coming back from this injury, I felt I was ready to throw in a couple of intervals .  About half-way through the planned set, it hit me.  I have really missed the sweat, the kind of sweat that requires your running clothes bypass the hamper and go directly to the washer.  On that first day back, dipping my toe into speed work, I didn’t reach that point where the skin gets a whitish sheen and you feel like you can brush the salt away.  I didn’t need to. Even a moderate amount of sweat was psychologically uplifting for this returning-to-the-flock runner.

Sweat, the particular type of sweat  – and there is a particular type – that results from a good run feels like my body telling me “we did good.”  I haven’t found a source that says sweat generated when running is any different that sweat generated from a tough tennis match or digging postholes. It’s all from the eccrine glands as they respond to messages from the brain signaling a need to reset the thermostat. Still, runner sweat feels different. It sends a message that that we’ve purged some of the junk, mental and physical, that comes our way.  The sweat speaks to me saying “you are in better shape spiritually and physically than when you went out the door – now go take a shower, get on with your life and do it well.”  I’ve missed the sweat.